Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Partners in Culturally Appropriate Care (PICAC) 2015 conference ‘Embracing Change’, Rosehill


Well, thank you very, very much Palavi.

Good morning to you all.

Can I also add my acknowledgement of country.

Can I start by acknowledging Ken Habak OAM, Chairman of Multicultural Communities Council of the Illawarra, and your committee members who are here today, to Cecilia Milani, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

As Parliamentary Secretary, wearing both hats, it is my pleasure here today to be representing, yes, the Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison but also the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield who of course has direct responsibility for aged care within our portfolio.

Both ministers have asked me to pass on their best wishes for this gathering.

As Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, I want to say thank you to the organisers for organising this conference.

Can I congratulate Partners in Culturally Appropriate Care (PICAC) NSW & ACT, and their supporters in the Multicultural Communities Council of the Illawarra, for making possible today’s discussion about issues vital to Australia’s ageing and culturally diverse population.

Can I take the opportunity to acknowledge the commitment that Multicultural Communities Council of the Illawarra has in the ageing space. And of course having my electorate office located in the Illawarra I know their work and have seen their work first hand.

As some of you may be aware, at age 23 I was the founding Board Director of a nursing home in the Illawarra. Ageing and aged care issues are very, very dear to my heart. Combined with of course with 30 years of involvement in the multicultural space and the communities sector, it is an area that I not only know, care very much about but of course in recent times, I – like many of my age – are now facing the issues with both parents who have had to access the aged care system.

As a Government we do understand that the ageing of our population is one of the biggest social issues facing our country and it is putting measures in place to maximise healthy and positive ageing. Australia is embracing change through our policies and programmes, and it is important that everyone in society do have a role in contributing to the positive ageing of our nation at some stage in their lifetime.

PICAC has proven to be a very useful model in how to help residential and community aged care service providers to deliver culturally appropriate care to older people from CALD communities.

Its training approach systematically helps providers to improve the way they handle cultural awareness; culture and dementia; culture and continence; and culture and palliative care.

Each of these challenges necessitates immense sensitivity.

The Government sees great value in PICAC because information resources, training sessions and promotion of the linkages between CALD communities and aged care services all make an important contribution to the care and comfort of our older people.

PICAC’s work changes the way many hundreds of older CALD people are cared for. PICAC’s partners are an essential vector of change.

While Australia is investing more to make aged care responsive to the needs of this very special group of older people, we are certain we can still do more.

Aged care within our migrant communities must cater to language needs. And we need far more cultural and religious understanding in aged care facilities, as well as the services that provide in-home care.

It is a tragic fact that many from non-English speaking backgrounds can lose their English language skills as they age and revert to their native language or dialect. Aged care must be prepared to respond to this.

As the daughter of migrants whose father recently passed away with dementia, I have first-hand knowledge of this. And whilst my father received excellent care, regrettably his loss of English meant that other than his family and friends who visited him, few were able to converse on a daily basis.

He was not able to make himself understood because he had lost his English skills and had diverted back to his dialect.

And that regrettably occurred in Wollongong which is one of the culturally most diverse places in Australia. This is definitely an area where we need to do more.

Our programmes are dedicated to helping older people lead more active lives. There is of course no substitute for personal care and, if done well, it can help maintain the dedication of active older CALD people longer to their communities and to their loved ones.

In this multicultural society older CALD people have contributed to our country as its nation-builders and we need to do all that we can to help them continue and recognise their good work and make contributions to their communities.

Older Australians are an increasingly important demographic — ABS figures show just over one in every three (36%) of Australians over 65 were born overseas.

Ageing and aged care are among the most important concerns in the nation’s migrant communities today, and research shows that life expectancy will continue to increase.

There has been significant Government reform in aged care and PICAC has been able to help many of the organisations that support older CALD people to handle complex challenges and barriers in delivering culturally appropriate care.

On 27 April this year, my colleague Minister Fifield and I jointly announced our commitment of $3.8 million to fund PICAC organisations for a further two years to 30 June 2017.

We fund one PICAC in each state and territory to equip aged care providers with the skills necessary to deliver culturally appropriate care to older people with CALD backgrounds.

Additional funding over the two years will be available through a restricted grants round targeted to PICAC organisations to support and promote an understanding of cultural issues and accessibility of services through the My Aged Care portal.

I have found, and repeatedly now I am hearing this from advocacy groups in multicultural space that they are increasingly having to meet requests from organisations and from older CALD people who find it very difficult to access the My Aged Care portal.

And that’s of course difficult for someone who doesn’t speak English very very well. So I think our support of PICAC will greatly assist in this space.

It will, this extended funding, will also support aged care providers to make major changes to aged care that will include the Regional Assessment Service, the Commonwealth Home Support Programme and Consumer Directed Care in home care packages with culturally diverse communities.

We have been involved in developing the National Ageing and Aged Care Strategy for People from CALD backgrounds. It is there to ensure a response to the needs of our older CALD people and better support the aged care service to deliver services.

Since its release, there has been substantial and ongoing activity on the implementation of the strategy. And it includes expanding the focus on CALD groups within the Community Visitors Scheme and National Aged Care Advocacy Programme.

The Department of Social Services now has a working group of major stakeholder organisations to help guide further implementation of the CALD strategy and inform broader aged care policy.

And this group has an important role to play in ushering in change and it comprises representatives with expertise in providing aged care to people from CALD backgrounds.

You will be aware of some anxieties in the industry about the expansion of the My Aged Care portal. And you will want to know how it will support clients from CALD backgrounds from next month.

The Government hopes benefits will flow from My Aged Care and other services, but I will leave it to Donna Moody, Group Manager, Ageing and Aged Care Services, to elaborate with the details after I have concluded. She will update you on the National Ageing and Aged Care Strategy for People from CALD backgrounds, and the role of PICAC and My Aged Care.

Australia is a great place to grow old. Australians have life expectancies at birth that compare well with those of other developed nations: 79.5 years for males, 84 years for females, and both can expect to live many years beyond the traditional notion of ‘retirement’.

Looking a decade into the future, nearly 11,000 Australians will live to be 100 years or older. This is more than double the current number of centenarians.

Without doubt, such longevity is to be celebrated. It is a testimony to our health system and our world class aged care system.

Ageing is a triumph of modern life because people in both the developed and the developing world are living longer lives.

And the Australian Government, while accepting the challenges presented by an ageing population, also celebrates positive ageing.

Australia’s older population is growing rapidly and it is becoming more diversified. Therefore, we are reforming our aged care system and placing a greater focus on community care.

The Review of Australian Research on Older People from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Background — launched this year by Minister Morrison — noted that a significant number of our older people will come from CALD backgrounds.

The report, commissioned by FECCA, emphasised the need to distinguish that older people from CALD backgrounds in Australia are not a homogenous group

I find it personally rewarding that a majority of Australians are positive about living in a multicultural society and feel secure and comfortable in living in contemporary Australian society.

Our migration journey has been an unparalleled success. Our durable citizenship and settlement policies and programmes have secured social inclusion for people from many different backgrounds

Migration itself is a force of change and has re-shaped the face and faith of Australia.

The Australian Government understands religious and interfaith issues have an important role and relevance in informing policies and programmes relating to our multicultural society. And they need to be listened to.

We know well that aging and aged care rank highly amongst the concerns of our migrant communities, most especially our traditional ones that came out in post-war.

Older CALD Australians want to remain at home and receive services that meet their cultural needs. It is part of their cultural heritage and that’s why it’s very important that whether the services be in the community space or in the residential space, that they actually be culturally appropriate. That they be as far as possible delivered by people who can actually communicate in the same language with the person receiving the care.

It is important that if they do go into residential aged care – and I hear this at so many of the groups that I go, the concern for their older people – that have to go to residential care, that residential care is delivered in an environment familiar to them. And if it’s an Italian or Greek background, that it is – or Spanish background – it is delivered by people who are sensitive to that cultural background, including most especially in the food that they eat and the people that they meet on a daily basis.

We are living longer and there is also a major change in the size and composition of our households. And therefore we know that the implications for an ageing population, and most especially an ageing population with a very very large component of culturally diverse communities, can produce challenges.

Since the end of World War II, we have welcomed 7.5 million migrants, including 800,000 under our humanitarian programme.

Today, tens of thousands of those migrants need culturally and linguistically appropriate aged care. And for some, their expectations are that their families will look after them. But regrettably those expectations cannot be met because of distance and pressures – family pressures, work pressures – on their children, most especially that generation of women, that are my age, that are sort of between 50 and 65, who have ageing parents, and the expectations on them to assist directly with the care. Yes, I can see the nods in the audience of the women who are in exactly the same position that I am in.

Our aged care system does touch the lives of millions of Australians, and the Commonwealth now spends more than $13 billion a year on aged care.

More than one million people receive aged care services, with over half a million people getting support at home.

Can I conclude by again thanking the organisers of today’s conference. I know that you will address the changes underway in the aged care system and think of innovative and practical new ways to help organisations care for older CALD Australians.

Your focus no doubt will be placed on substantial strategies which will nurture cultural inclusiveness in the aged care workforce, together with developing CALD trends and the latest demographic research.

You will make every effort to ward off division and stereotypes in the industry, to improve collaboration, deliberation and comprehension amongst people from different cultures, and, in effect, you will help build a world community of older people supported by individuals committed to supporting diversity in our care and in our services.

Today’s event, and through workshops, is an excellent opportunity to share your knowledge and experience of many professions that work across the aged care sector.

Can I thank you for your contribution and I look forward to hearing the outcomes of your conference and how we can better embrace change.

Thank you.